Our home of Eaton, Colorado was named after Benjamin Harrison Eaton (1833–1904), an American politician, entrepreneur and agriculturalist who was instrumental in the establishment of modern irrigation farming in Northern Colorado. He served as the fourth Governor of Colorado, with the nickname of the “farmer governor”. He was one of the largest land owners in Weld and Larimer counties, at one time owning more than ninety 160 acre parcels, all watered from canals and reservoirs of his own construction. His projects were influential in helping turn the South Platte River valley into an important agricultural region in the state’s economy.
After emigrating to Colorado in 1858 during the Colorado Gold Rush, he settled in Weld County. In 1863, he built a farm on the present location of Windsor. Eaton expanded his operations from farming into contracting, specializing in the building of irrigation canals and reservoirs, a business he heavily promoted as a means of bringing growth and wealth to Larimer and Weld Counties. In 1873, in association with John C. Abbott, he built what later became known as Larimer County Canal No. 2, which watered large areas of land west, south, and southwest of Fort Collins.
In 1878, he began construction of the Larimer and Weld Canal, once known as the Eaton Ditch. At the time, it was the largest and longest irrigation canal in the state, stretching seventy miles long and irrigating 20,000 acres of land between Fort Collins and Greeley.
In 1879, he built the High Line Canal in Denver for a group of British investors. He later built the Windsor Reservoir near present-day Windsor, and well as many other smaller water projects throughout Larimer and Weld counties.
Photos: top: Statue of Benjamin H. Eaton greets visitors in Eaton, CO.
center: Irrigators dug the first ditches with shovels and horse-drawn scrapers. Courtesy of the Ralph L. Parshall Collection, Water Resources Archive, Colorado State University
lower right: Benjamin Eaton, c. 1885. Beyond his work as an irrigation booster, Eaton served as governor of Colorado from 1885 to 1887. Courtesy of the Papers of Delph E. Carpenter and Family, Water Resources Archive, Colorado State University
Historic photos from CSU’s Public Lands website.
Information about the development of the irrigation system serving the region is included in The History of Eaton, Colorado by Pauline Allison Smillie. The book is available at the Eaton House Museum.